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The Space Elevator from Science Fiction to Engineering


The Space Elevator from Science Fiction to Engineering Larry Bartoszek, P.E. BARTOSZEK ENGINEERING With additional material courtesy of Brad Edwards – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Space Elevator from Science Fiction to Engineering

The Space Elevatorfrom Science Fiction to
additional material courtesy of Brad Edwards
Carbon Designs, Inc
Space Elevator Basics
The SE in Literature
  • Artsutanov, Y. 1960. V Kosmos na Elektrovoze,
    Komsomolskaya Pravda, (contents described in Lvov
    1967 Science 158946).
  • Isaacs, J.D., Vine, A.C., Bradner, H., and
    Bachus, G.E. 1966. Satellite Elongation into a
    true Sky-Hook. Science 151682.
  • Pearson, J. 1975. The Orbital tower a spacecraft
    launcher using the Earths rotational energy.
    Acta Astronautica 2785.
  • Clarke, A.C. 1979. The Space Elevator Thought
    Experiment, or Key to the Universe. Adv. Earth
    Oriented Appl. Science Techn. 139.

The Space Elevator in Science Fiction
From SciFi to NASA
  • Capture an asteroid and bring into Earth orbit
  • Mine the asteroid for carbon and extrude 10m
    diameter cable
  • Asteroid becomes counterweight
  • Maglev transport system
  • Tall tower base
  • Large system
  • 300 years to never...
  • From Smitherman, 1999

Proposed System Overview
  • First elevator 20 ton capacity (13 ton payload)
  • Constructed with existing or near-term technology
  • Cost (US10B) and schedule (15 years)
  • Operating costs of US250/kg to any Earth orbit,
    moon, Mars, Venus, Asteroids

Book by Brad Edwards and Eric Westling
Carbon Nanotubes (CNTs)
  • Carbon nanotubes measured at 200 GPa (54xKevlar)
  • Sufficient to build the elevator
  • Mitsui(Japan) 120 ton/yr CNT production,
  • Sufficient to build the first elevator
  • CNT composite fibers 3-5 CNTs, 3 GPa, 5 km
  • Not strong enough yet but a viable plan is in
    place to get there (Carbon Designs, Inc.)

5km continuous 1 CNT composite fiber
Deployment Overview
After deploying the pilot ribbon, 230
construction climbers ascend, each adding more
ribbon material and strengthening the ribbon by
1.3 each. The first construction climber is
limited to 900 kg by the strength of the pilot
ribbon. My work focuses on the first construction
Ribbon Design
  • The final ribbon is one-meter wide and composed
    of parallel high-strength fibers
  • Interconnects maintain structure and allow the
    ribbon to survive small impacts
  • Initial, low-strength ribbon segments have been
    built and tested

Initial Spacecraft
  • Deployment spacecraft built with current
  • Photovoltaic arrays receive power from Earth
  • An MPD electric propulsion moves the spacecraft
    up to high Earth orbit
  • Four 20-ton components are launched on
    conventional rockets and assembled
  • Mass budget originally based on shuttle launch

  • Climbers built with current satellite technology
  • Drive system built with DC electric motors
  • Photovoltaic array (GaAs or Si) receives power
    from Earth
  • 7-ton climbers carry 13-ton payloads
  • Climbers ascend at 200 km/hr (or more)
  • 8 day trip from Earth to geosynchronous altitude

Power Beaming
  • Power is sent to deployment spacecraft and
    climbers by laser
  • Solid-state disk laser produces kWs of power and
    being developed for MWatts
  • Mirror is the same design as conventional
    astronomical telescopes (Hobby-Eberly, Keck)

  • Anchor station is a mobile, ocean-going platform
    identical to ones used in oil drilling
  • Anchor is located in eastern equatorial pacific,
    weather and mobility are primary factors

  • Induced Currents milliwatts and not a problem
  • Induced oscillations 7 hour natural frequency
    couples poorly with moon and sun, active damping
    with anchor
  • Radiation carbon fiber composites good for 1000
    years in Earth orbit (LDEF)
  • Atomic oxygen lt25 micron Nickel coating between
    60 and 800 km (LDEF)
  • Environmental Impact Ionosphere discharging not
    an issue
  • Malfunctioning climbers up to 3000 km reel in
    the cable, above 2600 km send up an empty climber
    to retrieve the first
  • Lightning, wind, clouds avoid through proper
    anchor location selection
  • Meteors ribbon design allows for 200 year
    probability-based life
  • LEOs active avoidance requires movement every 14
    hours on average to avoid debris down to 1 cm
  • Health hazards under investigation but initial
    tests indicate minimal problem
  • Damaged or severed ribbons collatoral damage is
    minimal due to mass and distribution

Technical Budget
Component Cost Estimate (US) Launch costs to
GEO 1.0B Ribbon production 400M Spacecraft 500M
Climbers 370M Power beaming stations
1.5B Anchor station 600M Tracking facility
500M Other 430M Contingency (30) 1.6B TO
TAL 6.9B Costs are based on operational
systems or detailed engineering
studies. Additional expenses will be incurred on
legal and regulatory issues. Total construction
should be around US10B. Recommend construction
of a second system for redundancy US3B
SE Operating Budget
Annual Operating Budget per year in
USM Climbers 0.2 - 2 each Tracking
system 10 Anchor station 10 Administration 10 Anc
hor maintenance 5 Laser maintenance 20 Other 30 T
OTAL (50 launches) 135 This is US250/kg
operating costs to any destination.
  • Low operations costs - US250/kg to LEO, GEO,
    Moon, Mars, Venus or the asteroid belts
  • No payload envelope restrictions
  • No launch vibrations
  • Safe access to space - no explosive propellants
    or dangerous launch or re-entry forces
  • Easily expandable to large systems or multiple
  • Easily implemented at many solar system locations

  • Solar power satellites - economical, clean power
    for use on Earth
  • Solar System Exploration - colonization and full
    development of the moon, Mars and Earth orbit
  • Telecommunications - enables extremely high
    performance systems

Next Steps
  • Material development efforts are underway by
    private industry
  • Space elevator climber competition will
    demonstrate basic conceptno winner this year!
  • Engineering development centers in the U.S.,
    Spain and Netherlands are under development
  • Technical conferences continuing
  • Greater public awareness
  • Increased financial support being sought

Diving into the Details
  • I have focused on the details of the first
    construction climber
  • I dont do rocket science, but I recognize an
    electric car when I see one
  • At 900 kg, the first climber is in the weight and
    power range of an electric car
  • I proposed an alternative design to the Edwards
    climber based on my work on fatigue and tribology
  • Slides that follow are from previous SE talks

The Goal
  • To design 230 construction climbers to increase
    the load capacity of the pilot ribbon to 20
    tonnes in the least amount of time
  • The first construction climber is limited to 900
  • The drive train must weigh less than 233 kg
  • Climbers end their lives as counterweights for
    the ribbon

To be covered here
  • Propose a design for the first construction
  • Identify a critical Ribbon material property
    necessary to do a real design
  • Discuss friction and fatigue
  • Describe the challenge of the motors
  • Describe the mass budget challenge

Proposed alternative design
Pinched wheel design with no track This is an
incomplete scale model of the first climber. The
PV array (blue disk) is 4 m in diameter Not all
components shown are space-worthy
Development of the CAD model
  • Goals for the model
  • to identify all the features of the drive train
    and associate real components with them even if
    they were just placeholders
  • to see if reasonable components would fit within
    the mass budget
  • to address assembly considerations
  • to minimize structural mass by placing material
    primarily in the load paths

Two wheels clamped onto the ribbon
The axle on the far side of the ribbon is fixed
to the frame of the climber through self-aligning
bearings. On the near side of the ribbon, the
axle is mounted on a linear slide so the wheel
can be pressed against the ribbon or retracted
away from it. Motors are connected to the axles
by Schmidt couplings to absorb any angular or
lateral offsets.
Floating axle traction module
The two sides of this module are not stable to
torsion without the interface structures between
modules Wheel pinch forces are transmitted
through the light green plates on either side of
the wheel. Forces coming from the rest of the
climber are connected through the bearing housing
slides Every wheel is motorized.
The wheel compression mechanism
One ton screw jacks compress a stack of
belleville washers This concept allows great
resolution in the application of force to the
axle The components were all sized to take the
loads but are not space-worthy. A concern is
whether space-worthy components are even larger.
Fixed axle traction module
This module drives a wheel and absorbs the
compressive force coming from the wheel on the
other side of the ribbon. This module is lighter
than the one on the other side so balancing a
climber to force the CG to lie within the ribbon
is an issue. Motors shown are 50kW axial gap
models from Precision Magnetic Bearings.
Interface structures
The structural modules in between the traction
modules give torsional stiffness to the traction
modules and allow loads from the rest of the
climber to be coupled to the drive train. This
drive design (not including the PV arrays) weighs
1625 lbs, or 737 kg. This is about 3.16X the
allowed 233 kg for the drive train. 20kW motors
reduce it to 647 kg, or 2.77X.
Free Body Diagram of a Wheel
This picture models a single wheel on a climber
with just two wheels f friction force from
ribbon F, N are compression and reaction forces
pinching wheels on opposite sides of the ribbon
together This diagram allows us to write the
equations of motion for the climber and determine
all the forces acting on the climber
The big unknown material property
  • The only thing holding the climber up and keeping
    it from sliding down the ribbon is friction
  • To make the mathematical model work we need to
    know the coefficient of friction between the
    ribbon and the wheels
  • The design of the ribbon is unknown now, so we
    cannot know this number. What to do?
  • Guess!

How does wheel pinch force vary with ??
This graph and equation gives the total force
required to pinch the wheels together around the
ribbon to just keep a 900 kg climber from sliding
down the ribbon
The implication of the last graph
  • If the static coefficient of friction is as low
    as 0.1, wheels on a 900 kg climber must be
    compressed together with a total force of 10,000
    lbs (5 tons)
  • ? .1 is right in the middle of the expected
    range for coefficient of friction
  • Lower ? would make the ribbon too slippery for
  • ? lt 0.1 is characteristic of sliding bearing

What is the relationship between friction and
stress in the climber?
  • The coefficient of friction between the wheels
    and ribbon determines the stress state in the
    whole drive mechanism
  • Lower coefficient of friction harder the
    climber has to pinch the ribbon
  • The wheels and axles are in fully reversed
    contact or bending stress
  • Fatigue failure is the result of cyclic stress
  • Fully reversed bending causes the worst material

Why is fatigue an issue?
  • The space elevator is 100,000 km long
  • Construction climbers go the whole way
  • A 20 inch diameter wheel must rotate almost 63
    million times to get to the end of the
    ribbonsmaller wheel, more revs
  • The climber gets traction by squeezing its wheels
    against the ribbon
  • The lower the coefficient of friction between the
    wheels and ribbon, the harder the climber must
    squeeze, forces and stresses are higher

What are fatigue failure modes of concern?
  • Cracking a wheel axle
  • a disastrous failure for a climber
  • Rolling fatigue causing spallation of sharp metal
    chunks from the rim of the wheel
  • A potential disaster for both ribbon and climber
  • We need 100 confidence that a climber will make
    it to the end of the ribbon
  • Fatigue allowables are always expressed at 50
    confidence of failure
  • Allowable stresses are reduced to increase

Conclusions from stress analysis
  • Larger wheel diameters reduce contact stresses
    for fatigue
  • Larger wheels increase the climbers mass
  • Adding wheel pairs lowers force on each pair,
    makes wheels smaller
  • Climber weighs less up to a point
  • The maximum number of wheel sets is three and
    minimum wheel diameter is 8.4 inches to rotate
    fewer than 150E6 revs
  • Fatigue allowable must be high to make small

The motor problem
  • Axial Gap electric motors in the 20kW range and
    up are not off-the-shelf items yet
  • The climber design cannot be finished without a
    real motor design
  • This will take lots of money and time
  • This design uses the CAD model from one vendor
    and mass information from another vendor
  • I couldnt get a complete motor spec from one

Where the motor info came from
  • Rick Halstead of Empire Magnetics provided a
    spreadsheet with dimensions and masses of
    theoretical 20kW and 50kW axial gap electric
  • No torque-speed curve was available from these
    calculationsrequires detailed design
  • The CAD model came from Dantam Rao of Precision
    Magnetic Bearings
  • 50kW motor designed for electric cars
  • No torque-speed curve available
  • Never commercialized

Torque-speed curve
  • The torque-speed curve of a motor gives the
    maximum torque the motor can deliver at zero
    speed, and how the torque declines at higher
  • Without this curve, you cannot calculate how the
    climber will accelerate up the ribbon
  • You cannot calculate the power required by the
    traction drive

The mass budget constraint
  • Why is the first climber limited to 900 kg?
  • Because the pilot ribbon is the largest that can
    fit in the Shuttles cargo bay
  • The pilot ribbon can only support a 900 kg
  • If we cant build a 900 kg climber, then the
    pilot ribbon needs to be larger which means it
    cant be boosted to LEO with the Space Shuttle
  • Everything gets more expensive then
  • What can we boost the pilot ribbon with?

Climber Mass distribution from The Space Elevator
by Edwards and Westling
Table 3.2 Mass Breakdown for the first climber
Component Mass (kg)
Ribbon 520
Attitude Control 18
Command 18
Structure 64
Thermal Control 36
Ribbon Splicing 27
Power Control 27
Photovoltaic Arrays (12 m2, 100 kW) 21
Motors (100 kW) 127
Track and Rollers 42
Design constraint of lt233 kg comes from adding
the red numbers in the table. Not all of the
structure can be dedicated to the drive system.
Mass Breakdown of proposed climber
Description of climber components Climber with six 20 kW motors Climber with six 50 kW motors
Mass of 12 self-aligning bearings, kg 16 16
Mass of 6 axles, kg 32 32
Interface structural material, kg 51 51
Mass of 6 wheels, kg 53 53
Mass of 6 Schmidt couplings 63 63
Mass of structure in 3 fixed axle modules, kg 71 71
Mass of 6 motors, kg 84 174
Mass of 3 pairs of compression mechanisms, kg 136 136
Mass of structure in 3 floating axle modules, kg 141 141

Total mass of climber traction drive only, kg 647 737
Required drive system mass, kg lt233 lt233
Motor masses courtesy of Rick Halstead, Empire
The mass budget problem
  • Climber with six 20kW motors is 2.8X too heavy
  • The Empire motor mass is less than the
    Edwards-Westling motor mass by 43 kg
  • Empire motor mass is 66 of baseline mass budget
  • This means the structural mass overage is even
  • Can the structure be lightened by gt3X?
  • Lots of analysis required to answer this

How components scale with capacity
Templeton-Kenly Uni-Lift Screw Jacks
SKF Self-Aligning Ball Bearings
The implication of these graphs is that there is
a threshold mass for components at the low end
of capacity and that mass increases rapidly with
  • The design shown is too heavy and needs to be
    made space-worthy
  • Many components still need design
  • thermal management system
  • brakes
  • power distribution/control hardware
  • batteries (?)
  • Friction between the wheels and ribbon controls
    the stress in the whole drive train
  • Fatigue is a killer issue requiring much analysis

Conclusions continued
  • This design shows potential solutions for how to
    compress the wheels together and couple motors to
    the axles
  • A possible solution to increase the coefficient
    of friction is to make the surface of the wheel
    out of CNTs

Is the SE feasible?
  • I do think the engineering challenges can be
  • Once the ribbon fabric becomes available the race
    will be on
  • Whoever builds the first elevator owns space
  • I see the SE as a cargo elevator
  • Too slow for humans (me, anyway)
  • Radiation shielding for the trip adds an onerous
    burden to the climber

  • Dr. Bradley Edwards and Eric Westling
  • Robert Wands, FNAL
  • Rick Halstead, President of Empire Magnetics,
  • Dantam Rao, Precision Magnetic Bearing Systems,
  • Metin Aydin, Caterpillar Inc

For more information
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